How To Practice Guitar Scales To Create Real Music, And Not Just Boring Exercises

Scales are notorious for being boring. In addition, many guitar students find it hard to make real music with them.

The problem is you are often only shown how to play the scale up and down, and not any other way, so naturally this is all you do. No wonder it's boring playing the scale, it doesn't sound like music at all, and it becomes monotonous before too long.


To have a scale go from an exercise into something musical is a multi stage progress we will cover in todays article. There is more than one way to achieve this result, with what we will do today being one of them.


Scale Sequences


A sequence is when you take a select group of notes from your scale and play them in a particular order. You then typically repeat this order/sequence throughout the whole scale (this may sound a little abstract to you right now, but will become much clearer to you when I give some specific examples).

Sequences help you visualise your scale shapes, and the fretboard overall, on a much deeper level. They are great for developing your technique, which makes learning songs a lot easier, and great for creating music.

Sequences also provide your fingers with the common patterns found in music. Learning sequences is like preparing your fingers ahead of time for what they are going to be typically doing when playing songs/solos on guitar.


However, be aware, sequences can become boring, like playing up and down your scales only, if you do not train them correctly and effectively.


Here is what to do:

1. Learn and memorise the sequence using a particular scale shape. Focus on and learn both the finger pattern and sound of the sequence when doing this. Here is a sequence being applied to pentatonic scale pattern 1 to get you started:

2. Apply the sequence to other scale shapes you know. This is essential in both developing your fretboard visualisation as well as having the sequence under your fingers so you can use it anywhere on the guitar. Here is the sequence from step one applied to pentatonic scale pattern 2 as an example:

3. Play the sequence over various backing tracks. This is so you can hear your sequence in a more musical context. It will go a long way to you being able to use your sequences musically.

Below is an excerpt from a masterclass I conducted where I demonstrate using a sequence to create a solo from. Check this out to see how you can start training and applying the sequences you learn in a musical context, in this case a 12 bar blues in the key of C:

4. Mix the sequence with other sequences you have learned. This is also very important to do as it will help you retain sequences you have learned in the past as well as having the ability to mix them all up when creating and improvising music. Here is another sequence to get into your fingers.

Spend time learning this sequence first, and then work on connecting it with the previous sequence we did like so:

In the example above I am simply ascending my scale using sequence 1 we learned in step 1 and then descending the scale using sequence 2 that I just showed you in this step. This is a great way to start mixing the sequences together.

Think of the above like the evolvement of a sequence. When you have a new sequence to learn, start at step 1 and move you way through to step 4. You will get quicker and quicker doing this as you learn more and more sequences.

Don't worry about initially forgetting past sequences when learning a new one. They will still be in your fingers when you get to step 4.


Where To From Here?

It's not so much how many sequences you can remember that's important, but how well you will be able to visualise the fretboard, and how much easier you'll find it to play your songs that matters.

So instead of only building a collection of scales that you monotonously run up and down, boring yourself and anyone who hears you play, start getting sequences into your fingers and your ear by applying them to your scales.

However, as outlined above, don't stop here. You need to apply your sequences in a musical context as well as integrate then together with other sequences you know.

Before long, your fingers will be dancing through your scales creating all sorts of awesome sounding music, as if they have a life of their own, due to the training you've given them through sequences.

Simon Candy originates from Melbourne, Australia where he runs his own guitar school. Specialising in the acoustic guitar, Simon teaches and trains his students through a number of styles including blues, rock, jazz, and fingerpicking. Simon also offers and helps people from all around the world with online instruction for acoustic guitar.

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